We love stuff like this. So does everyone else, apparently, as we don’t know anyone who isn’t drawn to any article with the word “grade” and associated with sports. Our favorites are draft grades; we wait for them and want them but the idea is beyond ridiculous: They are grading players that have not played yet, only guessing what they think will happen. That is beyond presumptuous, but it doesn’t stop us from taking it in and reveling in the wonderful nonsense.
Earlier in the week, CNNSI had an article on their midseason grades for the NBA season so far. This was at least based on a half-season of play so it had merit. But we can never be sure how to approach this stuff when we see it. Is it merely performance based? Is it relative to preseason expectation? Talent expectation? Regardless of grading method, we are certain that these grades are subject to change as quickly as our opinions do (which is a lot, unfortunately). And what they had to say was interesting.
The Toronto Raptors received an “A-” midseason grade. Given that they are only two games above .500, the system is obviously not based on performance relative to the rest of the league, nor do we think that is the way it should be. A grade should be a fluid situation based on the evolving expectations and motivations of each individual team.
The Raptors, naturally, are the epitome of such fluidity. If the grade was being based simply on how they compare to the expectations of them before the season, they would probably be near a “C” grade. That, though, would have been based on having Rudy Gay and being committed to a successful, playoff-hopeful season. Such a grade would have been considered something of a disappointment given the hopes.
When Gay was traded and the prevailing thought was that the Raptors would be gunning for a top pick, the grade would have been more curious, perhaps more of a conditional “C” or something close. The thought would have been that the Raptors are taking a step back for the prospect of future gains. It’s a noteworthy and common strategy, but betting on an unsure thing cannot justify a high grade, even if it is the sorry team’s best option.
The Raptors, though, as we have discussed frequently, are the NBA’s most curious outlier. Their situation, as convoluted and defiantly righteous as it is, makes them very difficult to grade or contest. But we wonder about an “A-“. That is a bold, optimistic mark, especially compared to other teams in which the writer was not very friendly. Do they deserve the honor roll?
We feel like any analysis we can offer on the subject is reasonably moot because only one man’s report card has any meaning. It would be far more fascinating to see the midseason grade given by GM Masai Ujiri. Would he give them an “A” for overachieving in the past couple of months and putting a stranglehold on the dubious Atlantic Division? Would he give a high grade because of the development of DeMar DeRozan or the impressive maturation of Kyle Lowry? We think he would absolutely give high marks for good players taking big steps forward in their careers. Mending and nurturing talent is the job of any organization in professional sports.
Would he give a lower grade? Not because of anything that he sees on the court (save for slower-than-hoped-for development from Jonas Valanciunas), but more because things have played out in a way that don’t exactly fit his vision. If the trade of Gay was supposed to make the Raptors fall off the map, it didn’t work. If the objective was ridding the team of a black hole to allow everyone else to flourish, then mission accomplished. The grade realistically could be an “A” or an “F”. We are certain that no other team in the NBA could make that claim.
But does any of this matter? We shouldn’t need a grade to elicit discussion and argument about the state of our teams, but we’ve seen from the comment section after articles like this that there is no better way to get readers riled up. That fact aside, we wonder what it would take from the Raptors in the second half to have them finish with an “A-“? Start the spin machine, Masai.